“Nominated by the Governor and appointed with the advice and consent of the Senate. Senate confirmation is required for secretaries of departments…”
The quote above is the first footnote on page 636 of the Wisconsin Blue Book 2019-2020 which follows more than ten pages of “State officers appointed by the Governor”.
This first piqued my interest last November when the news that Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) Secretary-designee Brad Pfaff was fired from his job! How can you be fired from a positon for which you had never been confirmed? If the DATCP Secretary-designee was nominated in January 2019 when the new Governor took office, then this was ten months later and still not confirmed? The footnote quoted above clearly states “Senate confirmation is required for secretaries of departments…”
At the time of Brad Pfaff “being fired”, it was reported that only 7 of 19 Cabinet level appointments had been confirmed.
This issue came up again when the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the Evers Administration effort to extend the “Stay at Home” directive by having the Department of Health Services (DHS) Secretary-designee Andrea Palm write and publish the policy. My understanding is that this effort was found illegal because the DHS Secretary did not have that authority and nothing to do with the fact that she had not been confirmed by the Senate in the sixteen or more months since being appointed.
These two known incidents raise a couple of pertinent and probing questions. Can an unconfirmed secretary of a department work in the position with full pay and responsibilities pending Senate confirmation? If so, how long can this continue? Can an appointee be named in the January of a brand-new Administration and still be a Secretary-designee four years later? In Pfaff’s case, the Senate leadership had informed the Governor that the votes weren’t there for confirmation and asked that the name be withdrawn before the vote for confirmation. What is happening with Palm’s confirmation process?
Brad Pfaff was born and raised on a family dairy farm in La Crosse County. His work experience has been on the staff of State Representative Virgil Roberts, US Senator Herb Kohl, US Representative Ron Kind, and has also had positions with the US Department of Agriculture. He can be considered a career bureaucrat. Former State Senator Tom Tiffany summed up Andrea Palm, who was previously the Senior Counselor to the Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services in the Obama Administration, as “a career bureaucrat with no past ties to Wisconsin”. Palm has a Master of Social Work but no medical degree.
If a Secretary-designee is allowed to work with full pay and responsibilities and then fails to be confirmed, maybe it is like being “fired” from the position.
Now Governor Evers has another appointment in the news. Governor Evers has already appointed a replacement for when Dane Circuit Court Judge Jill Karofsky resigns to assume her new position as Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court on August 1st. State Representative Chris Taylor (D-76), a legislator known for her liberal leanings, is the appointed successor to Judge Karofsky. The first thing that comes to mind is this is more than six weeks before the vacancy actually happens compared to the recent vacancy in the 7th Congressional District. Rep Sean Duffy resigned (and vacated) the office last September and Gov. Evers scheduled the election for May 12th – close to 8 months later. This scheduling was reportedly for political purposes. The second thing that comes to mind is that for the past nine years Rep Chris Taylor has been a Legislator where a significant part of her job was to make the laws. Now, as a County Judge, her job will be to interpret the laws. I hope she can refrain from legislating from the bench.
A significant responsibility of a Governor involves the state officers he or she appoints to include secretaries of departments, filling vacancies in the judicial branch of state and county governments, numerous boards and commissions; and probably others. The Governor also sets the dates for special elections. Come re-election time for Governor Evers in 2022, his appointments should be carefully considered for the experience, qualifications, and other characteristics of the personnel involved. His timeliness of special elections might be considered as well.
If the number of secretary-designees and the length of time involved bothers you, contact your State Senator or Assemblyman and ask some tough questions!